First comes a confession. I have never seen this play before, never even been tempted to see this play before now and know nothing at all about Beckett other than his nationality and the century in which he wrote his plays. As I have never written a theatrical review before now, this seems like too good an opportunity to miss….. To be totally honest with you the reader, this is not really a “review” just a few jumbled thoughts early on a Sunday morning.
I suppose my “lack of previous” gives me the distinct advantage of having nothing with which to compare Simon Dormandy’s new production at the Arcola: so I am not hung up on the age of the protagonists nor on the kind of headgear they wear. I cannot compare the actors’ performances to Patrick Stewart or Ian McKellen but can give you a few thoughts on the play from someone who has seen little if any existentialist theatre. The first thing to say is that I enjoyed the two and a half hours I spent in the actors’ company last night. The set is dark, dusty and powerful. I really liked the way the tree (and indeed one of the cast) seemed to grow out of the rubble. The play is famous for its lack of narrative but I found the performances of all five members of the cast compelling in their different ways. Tom Stourton’s Estragon manages to bring a weary resignation to his role and at times in the play he convinced me he was a man on the edge of desperation and total despair. The highlights for me were when he could inject some physical comedy into his interactions with the rather nerdy Vladimir, played by Tom Palmer. Pozzo steals the stage in the first act and then, after the interval, his return marks the start of the darkest and bleakest section of the play when the fabric of reality starts to crumble even more.
I am sure Beckett intended the play to provoke rather than answer questions, but I was left wondering what he was trying to say about the uncertainty of memory, the fluidity of time and the perhaps the ultimate futility of the struggle. The relatively young age of the tramps does pose one major challenge for this production. If Vladimir and Estragon are old men then it is easier to believe that their ultimately fruitless wait might be better ended by a quick hanging from the tree. But I think we have a strongly ingrained preconception of the power of youth to change its circumstances. Is it possible that two young men in their twenties are really living such a bleak and worthless existence as to lose all hope? Do all their uncertainties about memory on display happen to younger people as well?
I know nothing about the religious background to this play but the similarity of the tree to a cross and the repeated references to the crucifixion in the text seem too much of a coincidence to me. Is there a message hidden in here about the true nature of salvation?
There are groups going from school in the next few weeks to see this play and I would recommend it to anyone. If you can provide any answers to the questions this production so successfully poses, perhaps you could let me know? A quick tweet with what it is all about would help me. It might save me my own long wait.